Violence is being regulated out of the NFL for safety reasons, but what will that do to the future of the game?
The National Football League has a problem that, when addressed, will require a major change in philosophy and could change the game itself dramatically.
By definition, the game of American football is violent. On almost every play, there is someone heading north and someone else heading south, trying to stop the other person from getting farther north. Such stopping includes contact, and because every yard matters, often those contacts are violent.
(Sometimes it is east and west, but you get the idea).
The NFL is the most popular sport in America, and the violent collisions are one of the most important attractions. No real football fans want the collisions to go away, and the NFL does not want to do away with contact. Otherwise, they would have to attach flags to each player.
But concussions have become the league’s hot topic, and rightfully so. Thousands of former professional football players suffer today from debilitating head and brain maladies because of the trauma they went through playing football. One concussion is bad for you, and once you have one, you are more likely to have another.
The NFL just settled a lawsuit and paid nine figures to take care of former NFL players who took part in a class action lawsuit to get financial assistance for themselves and their families as a result of difficulties related to concussions.
At the same time, the NFL has changed many rules regarding contact in order to prevent more players from being concussed. Flying tackles, tackling with the helmet first, and other formerly acceptable acts are now prohibited, and can either be punished by in-game penalties, fines or suspensions.
Which brings us to the very real, very new problem.
The Onion, America’s premier humor publication, recently reported that the NFL has changed rules such that defenders can only tackle an offensive player legally by making contact with a 4-inch square on the player’s right thigh. The exaggeration is funny in part because the truth is close to the hyperbole.
Defenders in the NFL today are no longer able to hit high on the offensive player’s body, and there are rules about hitting low as well, just not as many. Knee injuries are expected to climb as defenders avoid high hits.
But when two men are in motion at high speeds, making contact in such specific areas is hard, and often just plain impossible. Defenders are often left to just pushing a player and hoping he goes down rather than making what used to be considered a solid tackle.
The game cannot survive as we know it with such safety-related rules. There are three components to a football team, and defense is one of them (offense and special teams are the others).
Speaking of special teams, the problem is really bad when it comes to kickoffs. In order to prevent high-speed collisions on kickoffs, the NFL moved the kicking line up toward the opposing team’s end zone so that if a player tries to return the kick, the two sides won’t be able to build up the same amount of speed they could previously. But the result has been that few kickoffs get returned, because the ball often is kicked out of the end zone.
I don’t want to see people hurt, and I’m actually saddened by what has happened to Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, whom I covered during the first Super Bowl era. The NFL probably doesn’t want its athletes hurt either, and has been legislating to protect them, but at some point, the protection will go so far that the game will turn into flag football, or even worse, Arena football.
And I’m smart enough to know I don’t have a solution here. I don’t want the NFL as we know it to go away, but it is slipping away bit by bit in the name of player safety, which I also don’t want to put an end to.
The NFL makes a lot of money, and they obviously need to put some of it toward figuring out what the game is going to look like 10 years from now.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.